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Big names loom on last sixteen horizon

Bayern’s potential opponents in the Champions League first knockout round comprise three Spanish clubs, two from England and one apiece from Italy and Portugal. The names which could emerge from the hat at the draw on 19 December in Nyon are Madrid pair Real and Atletico, Villarreal, Chelsea, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Sporting Lisbon, an impressive cast who all finished second in their respective groups.

“It looks as though we can’t avoid a big name,” commented Bayern manager Uli Hoeneß following the German champions’ 3-2 victory in Lyon which sealed top spot in Group F, although head coach Jürgen Klinsmann insisted his men would be “absolutely competitive” in the last sixteen.

No preference

La Liga trio Real, Atletico and Villarreal were edged out in their groups by equally renowned opponents. Juventus, Liverpool and holders Manchester United finished ahead of the Spanish teams, who would play the second leg of any last sixteen clash at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

The same applies to the pair from the English capital, the Italian champions and the Portuguese cup winners, who finished runners-up to AS Roma, Porto, Panathinaikos and Barcelona in their groups. “We have no preference, We’ll take it as it comes,” said Klinsmann, “we’re just looking forward to it.”

Return leg at the Allianz Arena

The Munich camp unanimously agreed on the benefit of playing the return leg at home. “They’ll all be tough, but by winning today we’ve made sure we play the away leg first. As we saw against Hoffenheim, the Allianz Arena has the atmosphere to become a true fortress,” Hoeneß argued.

“You don’t just breeze through at this level,” Klinsmann agreed, “but I think we’re on a par with the teams that have made it through. It’s always fifty-fifty in these matches, it’s about form on the day.” After equallying the club record by taking 14 points from their group fixtures, Bayern will be confident of their chances in the next round. “The others will respect us after our wins in Lyon and Bucharest, and avoiding defeat in Florence,” Hoeneß stated.

Impossible to predict

Bayern President Franz Beckenbauer, staging a mock draw for broadcaster Premiere, certainly whetted the appetite by pulling out Real Madrid, eliminated by Bayern in the 2006-7 knockout round when the clubs last met. The Kaiser’s second pick produced Chelsea, who knocked out the men from Munich in the quarter-finals two years earlier.

Regardless of FCB’s opponents in the last sixteen tie, to be played on 24 or 25 February and 10 or 11 March 2009, Hoeneß felt only one thing was certain: “It’s impossible to predict. We need to ensure we stay focused on the job at hand, and then we’ll see what the future brings.”